Bhutan, a landlocked country in South Asia is known as the Land of the Happiest People on Earth. It is officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan. Situated in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan shares its border with Tibet, China and India. This is clearly reflected in the widespread influence of Buddhism here. It has beautiful monasteries and landscapes that range from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys. Here are the pointers for travelling to Bhutan hassle-free!
Travelling to Bhutan: An Introduction
- The Bhutanese name for Bhutan, Druk Yul, means Land of the Thunder Dragon. It was completely cut-off and only began to open up to outsiders in the 1970s.
- Capital City of the Kingdom of Bhutan – Thimphu
- Bhutan is the only Carbon Negative country in the world. This means that it has reduced its carbon footprint to less than neutral, having a net effect of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere rather than adding it.
- It is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government and the Wangchuck hereditary monarchy has wielded power since 1907. The Bhutanese people fondly wear badges with photos of their crowned King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as a token of respect and admiration.
- Currency of Bhutan: 1 Indian Rupee (INR) = 1 Ngultrum (Ng). Being closely related to India, the Indian currency, which is Rupee, is readily accepted in Bhutan.
- Bhutan being a relatively conservative Buddhist country, they prefer to wear the official attire on daily basis. The traditional dress is – Kho for men and Kira for women.
- Bhutan is a perfect round-the-year destination and is blessed to have seasonal variations. However, due to intermittent monsoon showers, it is preferable not to visit during the summer months. Also, the months of January and February are much cooler.
|Best Time to Visit Bhutan: March – May (Spring) / October – December (Fall)|
How to Reach Bhutan?
Most of the tourists usually visit the Western Bhutan which includes – Thimphu, Paro and Punakha. One can enter Bhutan directly via two modes of travel – Road or Air. Citizens from India, Bangladesh and Maldives are allowed to travel to Bhutan without visa through local tour operator. Below are the details as that’ll help you select the appropriate mode based on nationality.
|Mode of Transport||Details|
|Road|| By Car from India – |
Phuentsholing from Bagdogra Airport (~170 km / 5 hours)
Samdrup Jongkhar from Guwahati (~150 km / 3 hours)
Gelephu from Guwahati (~250 km / 5 – 6 hours)
By Bus from India –
Phuentsholing from Kolkata (~18 hours) buses run by Royal Bhutanese Government
Phuentsholing/Jaigaon (India) from Siliguri (~4 hours)
|Flight|| Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines operates Direct Flights to Paro International Airport to and from Paro to Kolkata, Delhi and Gaya (India), Bangkok (Thailand), Kathmandu (Nepal) and Dhaka (Bangladesh). There are flights from Singapore, Guwahati and Mumbai as well.|
Bagdogra Airport in West Bengal, India is the nearest airport to Bhutan and is connected by flight to all major cities in India and Bangkok
|Train||Best option from India is New Jalpaiguri Station (Siliguri). Other stations – New Alipurduar (60 km ) and Hasimara (17 km) from Jaigaon|
Travelling to Bhutan: Must Visit Places
|Phuentsholing||Bhutan Gate, Kharbandi Gompa, Amo Chhu Crocodile Breeding Centre, Zangto Pelri Lhakhang|
|Thimphu||Kuensel Phodrang (Buddha Point), Motithang Takin Preserve (Thimphu Zoo), Tashichho Dzong, Memorial Chorten, Changangkha Lhakhang, Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory, Folk Heritage Museum|
|Thimphu to Punakha||Dochula Pass, 108 Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens, Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility)|
|Punakha||Pungtang Dechen Phortang Dzong (Punakha Dzong)|
|Paro||Tamchog Lhakhang, Ta Dzong (National Museum), Rinpung Dzong Monastery, Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest)|
A Glance at Bhutanese Cuisine
Apart from the above mentioned attractions, a trip to Bhutan would be incomplete without tasting their unique cuisine. The Bhutanese people are in special love of spices which can be seen in their varied dishes.
|Must Try Food Items|
|Ema Datshi (Chillies and cheese)|
Kewa Datshi (Potato and cheese)
Red Rice (Staple Food in Bhutan)
Ara (Traditional Alcoholic Beverage)
Suja (Bhutanese Butter Tea)
Jasha Maroo or Maru (Spicy Chicken Stew or Curry)
Adventure Activities in Bhutan
The Kingdom of Bhutan being situated among the majestic Himalayas is well known for a host of adventure activities like – Rafting, Kayaking, Archery (the National Sport), Trekking, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Rock Climbing and Fishing. The crystal clear rivers in Bhutan are served by the glacial melt of the Eastern Himalayas. The Pho Chhu and the Mo Chhu are the most popular rivers for white water rafting. There are easy routes for the beginners and as well as the hair-raising ones for the veterans.
Whether its a day hike or multiple day treks, Bhutan has everything to offer. Pristine mountain lakes, imposing glaciers and some of the world’s most endangered species await you in the mountains of the Himalayas. All the necessary arrangements for adventure activities can be made through your local tour operator.
Travelling to Bhutan: Visa / Permit Essentials
- India, Bangladesh and Maldives Nationals: On arrival at Paro International Airport travellers can obtain a seven-day entry-cum-stay permit from the immigration office upon presentation of a passport (minimum 6-month validity). In addition, Indian tourists entering by Bhutan’s land border crossing at Phuentsholing, Samdrup Jongkhar or Gelephu can present government-issued ID such as a voter’s registration card.
- Foreign Nationals: Nationals of countries other than India, Bangladesh and Maldives need to obtain Online Visa in Advance through registered tour operators only. Once full payment of the cost of the trip has been received, the online Visa is approved by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Visa Cost is $40.
- Sustainable Development Fee:
|India, Bangladesh and Maldives Citizens – $ 17|
Other Citizens – $ 65
Travelling to Bhutan: Important Travel Tips
- If you are travelling by road, avoid reaching Bhutan on a Saturday since the Immigration office would be closed the next day. You would have to spend an extra day in Phuentsholing and might miss some other attractions if you have not planned well.
- Most of the attractions in Bhutan are open till 5 PM in the evening . So, make sure you set out for sightseeing early in the morning in order not to miss out on any of these. Also, our driver reiterated every day that they don’t work beyond 5 PM.
- Even though the Indian Rupee is readily accepted in Bhutan, the higher values notes such as INR 500 or INR 2000 are not accepted. So, carry enough cash as Credit / Debit cards are not accepted. You can also withdraw cash from the ATMs by activating International Withdrawal for your card. However, it will charge an extra amount above and beyond the withdrawn amount. Nonetheless, it would be helpful in case of an emergency.
- Switch your mobile phones on Flight Mode before you enter Bhutan because the network would automatically get updated to International roaming the moment you get close to the border.
- You can buy a Bhutanese SIM card at the Immigration office for 100 INR or Ng and recharge it at any of the local stores.
- Since, most of the famous tourist places you would be visiting in Bhutan would be monasteries and shrines, ensure that you dress up appropriately. I had this experience at the Tiger’s Nest monastery where the officials stopped a couple of my friends for wearing knee length trousers. Both men and women should wear an attire that covers their shoulders and are about ankle length.
- Since you would book the trip with a local tour operator, do check the reviews and proximity of the Hotels from the city center. One of our hotels was changed by the tour operator at the last moment due to schedule change and we had to pay additionally to the driver to drop us back late evening when we were returning from Thimphu market.
- Wear a comfortable pair of trekking / walking shoes while going to the Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) else your legs would hurt badly at the end of the day.
A Special mention of the Paro International Airport
Bhutan’s Paro International Airport brings an exciting experience while travelling by plane. A spectacular scene of Paro valley will definitely make you amaze as the mountain tops are closer than most other flights in the world. Very few pilots in the world are qualified to fly to Paro due to the dangers of flying between the valleys and the short runway. The flight between Kathmandu and Paro is one of the most exciting experiences for any traveller as the route covers four highest mountains of the world. In fine weather, one can enjoy the spectacular view of Mt. Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, and Kangchenjunga.
Now that you know the prerequisites for travelling to Bhutan, let’s visit the Land of the Fire Dragon and experience its rich heritage. Here is an 8 Day Guide to Explore the Best of Bhutan!